Raised in a Barn: Sleepover Ninjas

How many of my memories of childhood involve thinking I was putting something over on my parents? A lot, I’m afraid.  I didn’t give my parents as much credit as I suspect they deserved, but then, I don’t think any kids do.  When you have an eccentric-rustic-unusual weekend place, you get guests.  My parents were very social people, so they threw great, great big, parties, and invited friends to come up for the weekend a lot.  I learned to plan out a party from my father, who staged them like military operations, with time-tables and quartermaster lists, and food you could add more to in case of unexpected drop ins.  But it’s the expected stuff that, in retrospect, awes me.

Once a year I was permitted to invite a group of friends–up to a total of 8 including myself–up to the Barn for the weekend.  This was usually in the spring, a delayed birthday party (because my birthday, and my brother’s, are in December, when it’s cold up thar).  And here’s the thing that, in retrospect, awes me.  My parents loaded 8 kids in the station wagon, drove three hours to Massachusetts, and spent the weekend with them.  The sheer noise level in the car must have been migraine-inducing, never mind the weekend itself.  Anyone who has hosted a kids’ sleepover party will appreciate the chaos involved, and yet twice a year (once for me, once for my brother) they took on this task.  At times I think they even enjoyed it (both of my parents could be particularly creative around social occasions, and a weekend with a handful of kids calls for serious creativity).I have a bunch of party-at-the-Barn specific memories: the pumpkin-carving contest; the day a loaded hammock fell, seriously smushing the girl on the bottom of the girl-pile; the telling of scary stories at night when we should have been asleep.  But none of these memories shine quite so bright as the night we all decided to sleep in my room.

Some background: at this point there were criss-crossed studs in the walls, but no walls, so all the rooms on my side of the barn were open to the world.  My brother’s room and mine were on this side of the house; my parents directly across the hall.  They had walls (well, they were the parents).  The usual thing was to distribute camp cots in my room and my brother’s room: three cots plus the bed in each room would accommodate all parties.  Only one Saturday night we decided, after lights out, that we should all be in one room.  How hard could it be?

My parents were reasonably zen about some whispering after lights out, but I suspect they knew from experience that if we didn’t all get some sleep we would be soggy and cranky the next day.  So at some point they would make “no more talking up there” noises. The decision to rearrange the room was made after these noises had been made.  Nonetheless, all of us got up, padded into my brother’s room, informed the girls in there of our plan, and got them to start disassembling the camp cots.  All this was done sotto voce rather than in true whispers, with a good deal of clattering and giggling.  Finally, my father came out on the landing on the other side of the house and told us to shut up and go to sleep.

As happens under these circumstances, we immediately quieted down, whispering and being careful with our clattering cot parts. But such quiet doesn’t last.  After a minute or two dad came out to repeat, with increased force, his instructions about shutting up and sleep.  And again, we subsided into whispers (in the dark–no lights on, of course, because: no walls) and tiptoeing.  And again it didn’t last, and again dad came out on the landing, this time telling us in no uncertain terms that if we didn’t shut up and go to sleep right this minute he would load us all into the car and drive back to NYC right now.

We believed him.  The problem was that at this point we were half-way through the moving process: all the cots in my brother’s room had been disassembled and carried into my room, where there was absolutely no room for them.  Maybe one more cot, but that was it.  If anyone was going to sleep that night, we had to either reverse the whole process, or soldier on.

In the dark. In silence.

Somehow, we did it.  In memory, the whole experience became a little like one of those Navy Seals rescue operations in a bad movie: all stealth and hand-signals. We got two of the three camp cots from the other room wedged into my room, at which point there was absolutely no way to touch the floor.  One girl slept on the window seat.  One slept on my bed with me, head to toe (nothing like waking up to someone’s feet in your face).  And the others bestowed themselves on the cots in more-or-less random order.  And we did this all silently enough that dad did not come out and yell at us again.

The next morning he came upstairs to announce that breakfast would be available shortly.  And found himself looking at a room packed wall-to-wall with ten year old girls.  He got that “I’d smile, but that would be a concession I’m not prepared to make” quirk to his lips, said “PANCAKES!” and went downstairs.  And all of us rolled out of bed–rolled because there was no way to get up and walk out of the room–and went down to breakfast.  We all had the sublime self-congratulation of kids who believe they have somehow gotten past the gatekeepers of propriety and pulled a fast one.

Deconstructing the room in the daylight turned out to be much less fun than setting it up in the dark.


Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, just out from Plus One Press).  She is also the author of a double-handful of short fiction, most available on her bookshelf. Her first Regency romances, AltheaMy Dear Jenny, and The Heiress Companion, are now available from Book View Café.  She has just completed The Salernitan Women, an historical novel set in medieval Italy.


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Raised in a Barn: Sleepover Ninjas — 2 Comments